By Christopher Hunt
NEW YORK – It wasn’t that Chelsea Johnson hated the pole vault. She just wanted no part of it. That was her dad’s thing. She wanted her own thing.
For years, Johnson ignored the two pole vault pits in her backyard. She instead played volleyball and ran the hurdles on the track team but really hoped to earn a scholarship playing soccer. And when her Olympic champ dad couldn’t convince her to try the pole vault, he did the only thing a good father is left to do – he bribed her.
Jan Johnson, a bronze medalist in the pole vault at the 1972 Munich Olympics, offered five bucks for every time Chelsea came to the backyard for practice.
Chelsea Johnson, who tried the pole vault in her senior year of high school. By that April, Johnson, who will compete at the Millrose Games tonight, led the country in the pole vault at 13-6 and had earned a scholarship to UCLA.
“I had watched so much pole vault growing up but I had never done it,” she said. I think that’s why when I started pole vaulting it came so natural because I knew exactly what it was supposed to look like in my head.”
Johnson since tied for silver at the World Championships in Berlin when Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, the greatest female vaulter ever, packed up without clearing a height. Johnson called Isibayeva’s collapse simply, “a bad day at work.” But for Johnson it was a silver medal at her first world meet.
“I was just there to capitalize,” she said. “Obviously Yelena was in great shape. She broke the world record the next week.”
She splits time training in her father’s backyard in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and with coach Ty Sevin at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego. This will be her first Millrose Games and she’ll go in as the favorite, as Jen Suhr has pulled out.
“I’ve heard everything about the energy and the fans,” she said. “It seems like no better place to start the season.”
Terrance Treadmill is a Millrose Games veteran in the 60 hurdles and 60 dash having competed five times at the Garden already, starting in 2000 when he ran the hurdles while at South Carolina.
“I always flourish under the bright lights,” he said. “I love the crowds. I feed off the energy from the crowds.”
World outdoor champ Christian Cantwell will be going for this third win in the shot put.